Tag Archives: Dashain

Khasi Bazaar

In the US we have turkey for Thanksgiving, and some people have ham for Christmas, but in Nepal when it’s time for Dashain only one kind of meat will do—khasi ko masu—goat meat.

In preparation for the main day of Dashain, called Dashami—tikka day– P, his dad, his dad’s friend (“Uncle”), and I went to the Khasi Bazaar [Goat Market]. The market consisted of the sidewalk on both sides of the road filled with roped up tarp tents and lines of goats tied to strings and posts. A second part of the market was down a small alleyway where goat pens where stuffed with goats. Small weighing stations consisting of a metal cage for the goat, counter balanced by a platform and heavy metal weights were scattered throughout the market so customers could buy their animal by the kilo.

Before we got into a taxi to go to the market I asked P’s dad what kind of goat we were looking for. “About 30-35 kilos, long legs, not too fat, brown in color, because brown goats are nice to look at.” We found goats of all sizes and colors—black, white, spotted, brown. Daddy at first seemed displeased. He said that these goats were from the Terai [plains of Nepal bordering India], he could tell because of their long ears, and they seemed to be too fat. “Not good,” he said, “We don’t eat the fat.”

We circled around the market for a while, and finally settled on a goat that they had spotted earlier. It was a darker brown goat with even darker brown, almost black, streaks, and small horns. The goat was untied from its post and Uncle picked it up to test its weight. Then the goat was ushered into one of the metal cages for an official weigh in. P’s dad haggled the price, and the goat was ours.

I took its rope and gently led it out of the market saying, “Aao khasi, aao.”[come goat, come]. I wanted the goat treated nicely since it only had a few more hours left of its life. We found a taxi and opened the back hatch and loaded the goat in the back so that it was standing behind the back seat and on top of the spare tire. There was just enough space in the back section of the taxi for the goat, almost like the space was designed for goat travel. P’s dad, myself and P sat in front of the goat on our way home. I pet its head to make it feel more relaxed.

When we got home the goat was unloaded and brought to the back of the house to eat some grass. P and I pulled up clumps from the ground and put our hands up to the goat’s mouth and he happily chewed. After a few minutes P’s dad lead the goat inside the house and two people—P’s dad pulling the string from the front and “Uncle” swatting at the goat from the back—led the goat upstairs to the roof.

The goat was tied in the corner and Mamu give it leaves from the cauliflower she was cleaning for Dashain meals, and we gave it a large pan of water. It bleated a few times then settled down in the shade.

Khasi is thakai.” J Phupu said [goat is tired].

When I pass the goat on the way up to the second roof top (above the kitchen) where P is flying some changa [kites] I feed the goat some more cauli leaves.

Tomorrow the goat will be cut up for Dashami meat, some going to Uncle, some going to P’s relatives, and the rest eaten for the holidays. Daddy said in the morning he would take the goat to the butcher to be killed, cleaned and to have the larger sections of the goat separated (head, thighs, mid-section, etc), but that he was going to Uncle’s house to get a khukuri knife so that they could cut up the larger sections from the butcher into smaller sections.

“You will see, tomorrow.” He said.

Changa Chet!

This afternoon the sun was high and warm, with just enough breeze to get a kite into the air. In preparation P and I wound the nice Lucknow string around P’s old wide wooden spool and took another kite up to the roof.

P quickly got his kite up into the air, and soon it was soaring high above the neighborhood. Half a dozen other kites were also up in the air, mostly too far away from us to “fight.”

“When I was a kid there were hundreds.” P said, bating the other kites to try and come after him. He spotted a black kite struggling a few houses away. “Maybe I should go after that one.”

“What if it is a little baby flying the kite?” I asked.

“There’s no mercy.” He said, again smiling, but steered his kite away and over towards a light blue/gray kite launched from another roof not too far away. As the blue/gray kite climbed higher, it made its way closer to P’s. The kites circled each other several times, dancing in the sky.

“When you cut the string of another’s kite you are supposed to yell ‘changa chet!’ which means ‘kite is cut!’” P explained.

He pulled up and tugged hard on the kite and his string ran straight into the other kite with a force that visibly shook the blue/gray kite, even from such a distance. P’s spool started to pull and the string began unraveling rapidly.

“I guess we have to see who wins the fight.”

He pulled and then loosened, pulled and then loosened, and then the blue/gray kite started fluttering down out of the sky.

“CHETTTT!” P yelled to the teenager holding the kite-less string on the high cement roof a few houses away, “My first win in ten years!”

P looked around for another kite to fight but the others were too far off. “Do you always have to fight them?” I asked.

“What’s the point of flying if you don’t have the competition?” he answered. This type of kite flying was quite different then the few kites I tried to fly as a kid in the park, the point was just to get the kite up in the sky and watch it float in the breeze. There wasn’t really any technique or skill involved, like this kite flying. Every time P let me hold the wooden spool I’d again get the kite in a dreaded death spiral. I was content just to watch and cheer.

A few little kids had watched the kite fight and started to chant, “Baba Che, dhago chod.”

“What does that mean?”

“This kite design is called Baba Che. The kids are calling out to us, ‘Baba Che, release more strings!’ They want us to fight someone so they can get the kite that falls.”

We let it fly for a while more, then P reeled in his kite, alive to fight another day.

Vijaya Dashami, Now Go Fly a Kite!

Today is the first day of the fifteen day holiday Dashain, one of the largest festivals of the year. It’s the day that jamara is planted, and when kids take fragile paper kites to the roof.

After Mamu’s morning puja in the prayer room at the top of the house she planted the family jamara seeds. She had explained last night that one of their neighbor’s used to work at the palace and would bring jamara back from the king, so for many years the family didn’t grow any, but they started again last year.

It has been busy in the house, with many people coming and going. Daddy has been busy handing out packets of invitations for visitors to take back to their section of the city and distribute out to people P’s family knows. Although the household is buzzing with activity, P and I have felt relatively lazy. We have been sitting around, chatting with visitors, sitting on the roof and watching all the activity in the neighborhood, and helping Daddy call and contact guests. This morning I helped Mamu chop onions, mushrooms and tomatoes for the noon time meal.

There has been a lot of rain, at least for a little while each day, but this morning was sunny and warm, while looking out the window P spotted several kites flying, and with a boyish enthusiasm declared that he wanted to fly kites as well. He started searching the house for spools of string and thin paper kites to take to the roof.

I remember a few years ago someone left a copy of The Kite Runner at our house, and P picked it up. He’s not usually a reader, I’ve teased him that he’s been reading the same Jarrod Diamond book for five years, but this book he quickly got into, putting it down every now and then to reminisce about flying kites in his own youth, fighting kites with neighborhood children from the roofs of other houses. Once the book transitioned from the main character living as a boy in Afghanistan and making and flying kites with his friend, to a young man living in America, P quickly lost interest and tossed it aside. He never did finished it.

So P dug through the cupboards until he found a spool of thick string and grinned, “this is very good string, from Lucknow.”  He was about to yell out to the man cutting the grass (by hand with a curved sickle knife) to ask if he could run to the market to buy some kites, but Daddy said there were some stacked above the suitcases in the bedroom. P reached up to grab them, and pulled them down, lifting a cloud of dust.

We went up to the roof, and found a spot between the drying laundry. P tied the string to the nicest looking kite and thrust it up into the air. There really wasn’t any wind, but P started pulling and twisting, sticking out his tongue and biting his lip with concentration. When the kite caught some air and lifted, P’s smile spread across his whole face, “I’ve still got it.”

P got the kite fairly high into the sky, and explained we could potentially fight with other kites that we saw floating above several other houses. He asked if I would like to try, and I took hold of the spool. I didn’t have it for more than thirty seconds before the kite started dropping and spinning out of control.

“What did I do wrong?” I asked, as P grabbed the kite back and tried to rescue it from its death spiral. “I tugged and pulled on the string like you did.”

“I guess it takes skill and practice.” P answered, a bit of pride shinning through his voice.

It took him a few moments to wind in the kite and get it under control, just as huge rain drops started to splatter on the roof indicating another shower was on its way.

P pulled in the kite, and I grabbed the others, and we helped to take the laundry in off the line before it was soaked.

Maybe I’ll have better luck tomorrow.

Dashain Tikka 2010

Another Dashain has come and gone. It was a good one this year. Good food, good friends, good blessings/wishes, good music, good dancing, and I finally won some taas money ;)

P’s brother U came to visit from Philadelphia and on Sunday morning some friends came over for a morning “family tikka.” P prepared the jamara…

Nice and yellow. Although I left the jamara out all day because I figured it was the last day of Dashain, and it turned green really fast... (it's supposed to be yellow)

… and the tikka (vermillion powder, yogurt and rice). The oldest in the house gives tikka to the younger people…

P gives me tikka

After P was done, the next oldest gave tikka…

KS giving me my second tikka

Finally I gave tikka to a few of the younger people…

I give tikka and blessings to D

Then we had a nice breakfast feast, before cleaning up the kitchen to start round two of cooking for S-di and M-dai’s tikka and party. I did my part and represented both the “American” (by making salad and apple crisp) and “Nepali” (by making rice and mattar paneer) aspects of our household in the cuisine department.

In the past few years, M-dai usually gave tikka since he is the eldest in our community, but this year S-di took charge. I later found out M-dai quietly decided not to give or take tikka this year as an activist measure, since as I noted before his ethnic community did not traditionally celebrate Dashain, but was at one point forced by representatives of the king. He was inspired by recent articles in Republica.

S-di giving P and I our tikkas and blessings for the year

Other party guests with their tikkas...

And of course, there was lots of food...

After tikka and eating, the guitar and drums were taken out and various Nepali folk songs were sung and danced to…

And we rounded out the evening with a bit of taas– not marriage, but “flush” which is another betting game kind of like a simpler version of poker. Although I wasn’t the big winner, I did alright, and finished with more money than I started out with :)

So Dashain this year was a lot of fun. P and his family have started talking about having us go to Nepal next year for Dashain. P hasn’t been home for a Dashain in ten years, and it will be our first Dashain as a married couple. I would love to see the festival in Nepal and take tikka from his family. It’s hard to take off time from work, especially during the school year, but maybe I’ll try…

Hope you all had an enjoyable Dashain! Any good stories? Good tikka blessings/wishes? Fun moments?

Jamara Status…

So Dashain tikka is tomorrow. I think we will start the day by getting our household tikka from P (he’s the oldest), and then we will be having our regular tikka and party at S-di and M-dai’s place tomorrow afternoon.

and… I’m happy to report that our jamara planting was successful!

I have to admit, during my first post “planting the jamara,” I was a bit worried that nothing was going to grow and I’d have to admit defeat to the internet community. On day three I was quite encouraged to see the jamara seedlings peeking up into the air. However on day 9 (today!), it is amazing to see how fast it has grown!

 

Top view

 

 

Side view

 

So it is ready to be used for tikka tomorrow! Hurray!

P’s brother U is coming up from Philadelphia, and we chatted online with family earlier today. Good times for Dashain! Best wishes to all…

Dashain Articles

A few people (thanks AS and P) sent me articles today from the Nepali online journal Republica that I wanted to share:

The first is called “Nava Durga: Nine incarnations of the Mighty Devi Durga” and discusses the different incarnations of Durga (the power goddess) that are worshiped on different days of Dashain.

The second article was on Dashain tikkas and why some communities use red versus white or black.

(From the Republica article on Tikka): This picture illustrates to those who have never seen or participated in a Dashain tikka giving what it looks like. An older member of your family/community gives tikka and blessing to younger people. Note the jamara grass tucked behind the father's ear.

In the “white tikka” section of the article it discusses how different ethnic communities sometimes choose to use different colored tikkas to differentiate themselves and their practices, since historically red vermillion was not readily available outside of the KTM valley, and tikkas were created with butter (potentially influenced by Tibet), or curd and rice. Also the article gives the example of the Limbu people, whose participation in Dashain can only be traced back to Rana Bahadur Shah’s reign. This reminded me of a story that M-dai told me a while back.

M-dai is from the Sunwar ethnic group traditionally from the mountains in the Solokhumbu region of Nepal. Many of the mountain people were not traditionally (and many still are not) Hindu, but Buddhist or animist/shamanistic. When Nepal became unified under a king, and the country was declared a Hindu kingdom, advisors of the king were sent to the more remote areas of Nepal to enforce Hinduization. M-dai said his grandfather’s grandfathers used to have to show that they sacrificed a goat for Dashain to prove their participation in the Hindu festival and their adherence to the king. For some families celebration of this festival may have stuck, but not for all.

Which leads me into the final article: “Commentary: On Not Celebrating Dashain.” Even though to me Dashain feels more cultural than spiritual, it is important to remember that the festival– much like Christmas (regardless of how secular and commercial it might seem to some) in the US– is not celebrated by everyone. This article is from the perspective of a Nepali who is not Hindu, and thus doesn’t celebrate.

I hope you don’t mind all the posts on Dashain… it’s just on my brain as of late. Thought others might find these interesting….

Marriage (the Nepali Card Game)

In the spirit of Dashain, I wanted to post about the Nepali card game “Marriage.” As I’ve mentioned before one of the favorite pass-times of Dashain (besides eating of course) is gambling, and it is not unusual for families to spend the holiday playing cards. We were at a Dashain party at R and S’s over the weekend and there was card playing/gambling from 10:30pm until 5 in the morning!

There are several favorite games to play for Dashain’s “taas” (card playing)– “Kitty,” “Call Break” (which is similar to the American game Spades), and probably most famously “Marriage.”

I grew up in a card playing family (at least on my dad’s side) but I’m forever forgetting the rules of “Marriage.” A quick google search led me to realize there wasn’t a good listing of the rules out there in internet-land, (although there is a website where Nepalis can play “Marriage” online). So I thought it would be useful to try and explain the rules of the game in a nutshell for anyone who might find themselves pulled into a game during this Dashain season.

If I have misunderstood any of the rules or I forgot something, I encourage readers familiar with the game to comment. Also special thanks to N who took the time this evening to play a round with me and explain the rules in detail.

Marriage is all about the “points” (each point is money that the players have to pay each other), strategically knowing what to throw and what not to, and trying to figure out the “joker” (or wild card).

1 point is a unit of money, whether it is 1 rupee, 1 penny, 10 cents, etc.

The game is played with three decks of playing cards and can be played with 2-5 players. The dealer deals 21 cards to each player. The players look at their hand to see if they have any sequences (either three-of-a-kinds or same suit trials of three). If you have a three-of-a-kind it is called a “tanella” and you can put the cards out in the open. Each player must pay the person with the tanella 5 points. If multiple people have tanella than multiple people are paid 5 points by each player. If you don’t call your tanellas at the beginning before the game begins, you are not able to collect your points.

The play begins with the person sitting to the right of the dealer. The top card of the un-dealt pile is turned over and the player has a choice to pick up this card, or take the next card. If the player wants the card then they take it into their hand and discard a card they do not want. The cards in the discard pile are spread out so all can see the cards that are no longer in play (this can be strategically important).

The game continues in that fashion until someone gets three sequences (either three-of-a-kind or same suit trial of three). The person who gets the sequences lays them out face up and gets to blindly choose the “joker” or wild card  amongst the unused portion of the deck, looks at the joker, and places at the bottom of the pile.

Knowing the joker is a key aspect to the game, and players will only get a chance to look at the joker after they get three sequences.

The joker can be used as a wild card to complete sequences where you are lacking a card. Since you are playing with three decks it is possible that there might be two other of the exact same joker in play, but the same joker of any suit is also usable (just not worth points later on). Also the exact card above the joker and the card below the joker (called “maal”) can be used as wild cards and are also worth money later on. So an example– if the “joker” is the 5 of diamonds than all 5’s are also wild cards (although only diamonds are worth points), and the 4 of diamonds and 6 of diamonds are wild cards (“maal”) worth points as well.

The play continues with picking cards, discarding and making sequences (keep sequences in your hand except for the three original sequences that allow you to look at the joker). The person who first makes all the sequences in their hand discards their final card, lays out the sequences and starts counting points.

The key to the game is in the points:

So you get points for being the first person to complete all sequences in your hand– 10 points from any player that hadn’t made the initial 3 sequence that allowed them to look at the joker, and 3 points from everyone else.

But then other people can get points too…

Anyone who has the exact joker (5 of diamonds in the example above) gets 3 points from each person, and anyone who has a “maal” card (4 or 6 of diamonds in the example above) gets 2 points from everyone.

There is an alternate version as well where you could get 5 points if you have a joker of a different suit but same color (meaning 5 of hearts in the example above) but there are no “maal” points for the same color different suit variation.

After counting up points, and exchanging money, the deal moves to the person on the right and the whole process starts again. The game continues until people decide to stop, there is no definitive end… unless maybe someone runs out of money ;)

Of course there are many other intricacies to the game, but at least this will get you started on the right path…

So happy gambling, and happy Dashain! (Luckily I’ve only lost $5 so far…)